Saturday, September 1, 2012

ArtTrail #8 - Archie Bray

“Your life is a piece of clay,
don't let anyone else mold it for you.”
There are always those who see things a bit differently; those who envision what the rest of us, perhaps, cannot see.
They take in all that is right before them and yet they are able to shift their focus to what lies beyond.
They clearly see the path - and the effort required - which leads from here to there.
Such a person was Archie Bray...

Born in Helena, Montana, in 1886, Archie Bray had virtually no say in what his life-long career would be. As a young man, he wanted to be a physician, but his father had other ideas and insisted that he be trained as a ceramic engineer. There are stories of hot and heavy arguments, but in the end that is what he did.

Gold had been discovered in Helena in 1864 and it soon became a boom town. Situated on the eastern edge of the Rockies, the prospering town was originally constructed of wood and canvas. For some, wealth needs to be flaunted and so brick and stone homes and business blocks became symbols of status. But among the many wooden structures frequent fires soon prompted the town fathers to require that only masonry buildings be built downtown. All this construction created a market for locally made brick.

Archie's father, Charles H. Bray, was born in England in 1864, the same year that gold was discovered at Helena. He served an apprenticeship with a British brickmaker before coming to the United States in 1880; in 1884, Charles, by then a skilled brickmaker, was hired to work at the Kessler Brick and Tile in Helena. As the business grew, Charles became the plant manager and progressively enlarged and updated the plant.

It's estimated that at least 90 percent of the brick of which Helena's buildings were constructed was made at these Brick Yards. Eventually merging with another brickmaking company, the plant became Western Clay Manufacturing Company.

Employing upwards of 50 workers, Western Clay produced fire, sidewalk, ornamental, paving, and pressed brick; culvert and sewer pipe; lawn vases and flower pots; clay tile; flue linings; and even hollow tile for grain silos. By 1918, production ran as high as ten million bricks and tiles annually.

In 1928, Charles Bray became the sole owner of Western Clay. Groomed to lead the enterprise in a new century, Archie had learned brickmaking at his father's knee. He combined this practical knowledge with the technical training he received in the Ohio State University ceramics engineering program, reputed to be the finest in the nation.

Upon his father's death in 1931, Archie became general manager and president of Western Clay. He continued his father's innovations, and under his direction Western Clay continued as Montana's preeminent brick producer, even at the peak of the Great Depression.

But after World War II, with the rise of new building technologies and materials, the demand for brick and other ceramic products begin to shrink.
 And Archie, a long-time patron of the arts,
had become obsessed with a vision.

Next door to the Western Clay plant, Archie would found a center for the ceramic arts with the support of friends who shared his vision and would help to carry it farther.
He finalized his plans for "the first branch of the Archie Bray Foundation," which he called Pottery, Inc.

In a letter to a friend, he described his vision for the Foundation:

"Somehow let's keep it all on the plane we dreamed — let's be practical too, let's keep it all in good fun, to roll along the whole idea built around —'A place to work for all who are seriously interested in any of the Ceramic Arts.'
To be high standards—to keep it nice—that it may always be a delight to turn to — to walk inside the Pottery and leave outside somewhere— outside the big gate —uptown —anywhere —the cares of every day.
Each time we walk in the door to walk into a place of art—of simple things not problems, good people, lovely people all tuned to the right spirit.
That somewhere thru it all will permeate a beautiful spirit... carrying on and forwarding the intentions, the aims and the life of the Foundation.
Can we do it?
What a joy it is to do it."

Today, the Archie Bray Foundation provides free access to some of the finest ceramic art found anywhere in the nation.

Located on the site of that 100+year old brick plant, the Bray grounds contain hundreds of ceramic artifacts and site-specific sculptures created by former resident artists.


You are welcome to explore the grounds anytime during daylight hours - there is no charge.

There is a rotating exhibition space and the Sales Gallery, where you can buy work by current and past resident artists.

During the summer the Bray's 3,500-square foot Warehouse Gallery, a converted brickyard building, features an exhibition of work by current resident artists.  

Solo exhibitions by departing resident artists take place at different times during the year, and additional Bray exhibitions are held at galleries throughout the country.


The permanent ceramics collection contains more than 1,000 pieces and continues to grow.

At age 65, Archie Bray finally did what he wanted...
"No man ever wetted clay and then left it,
as if there would be brick by chance and fortune."
~ Plutarch

For more information of the Archie Bray Foundation:

1 comment:

  1. ladybug...i REALLY really LOVE this post!! the whole story...the beautiful creations. there's something about clay/pottery/ceramics...that i just love.
    i've always felt a wanting to try my hand at pottery...a wheel...sculpting, shaping, decorating, glazing. mosaics. brick.

    your pictures share the awesome beauty of this man's quest...to add creativity into people's lives. wow. this is definitely a place i will have to get to one day!! i can just imagine how it must feel to wander the grounds...